Roman Period

Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire when Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII were defeated at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. The conquest of Egypt and its incorporation into the Roman empire inaugurated a new fascination with its ancient culture. Obelisks and Egyptian-style architecture and sculpture were installed in Roman fora. The cult of Isis, the Egyptian mother goddess, had an immense impact throughout the empire. Likewise, changes were noticeable in Egyptian artistic and religious forms, as Egyptian gods were increasingly represented in classicizing style.

At this time there was no ruling family living in Egypt, and members of Rome's élite classes were forbidden from entering Egypt without the permission of the emperor, in case they should raise an army against him. Like the Ptolemies before them, the Romans left the religion and culture of Egypt intact.

Egypt was garrisoned with Roman legions and auxiliary units until conditions became stable. All business was transacted according to the principles and procedures of Roman law, and local administration was converted to a liturgic system in which ownership of property brought an obligation of public service. New structures of government formalized the privileges associated with "Greek" background.

As part of the Roman Empire, Egypt was also more open to the world than before. Although it had admitted its share of foreigners in the past, it had always clung to its own culture and to its own ideas. Since the conquest by Alexander the Great, however, it became more and more a Hellenistic state, with a Hellenistic culture, and as a Roman province, it was also more open to the ideology that would finally strike the mortal blow to the millennia old Ancient Egyptian civilisation: Christianity.

When the Roman Empire was divided into two parts and Egypt became a part of the Byzantine Empire, most of its population had converted to Christianity.

The end of the Roman Era and the beginning of what is called the Byzantine Era is actually quite difficult to pin down, but certainly the high empire of Rome was in decline. A rapid succession of emperors destroyed any hope of stability, with the exception of the twenty-year reign of emperor Diocletian, who stabilized the money supply (all of the Roman Empire now used one coinage, even Alexandria, which up until now had minted its own money) and made great efforts to reorganize the bureaucracy.


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